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Max Weber's the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

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Weber saw religion from a different perspective; he saw it as an agent for change

He challenged Marx by saying that religion was not the effect of some economical social or psychological factor. But that religion was used as a way for an explanation of things that cause other things. Because religious forces play an important role in reinforces our modern culture, Weber came to the conclusion that religion serves as both a cause and an effect. Weber didn’t prose a general theory of religion but focused on the interaction between society and religion. Weber believed that one must understand the role of religious emotions in causing ideal types such as capitalism.

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Weber also mentions four principal forms of ascetic Protestantism which are Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism, and Baptist movement. He continues by explaining some of the values involved with these other sects although its clear that Calvinism will be the most important to his argument. Weber assumes that Calvinism influences in Western Europe in the seventeenth century. He notices that western Europe had followed Calvinist Protestantism. Calvinists saw their work as a “calling” from God and it was a moral duty. “God does not exist for men, but men for the sake of God. All creation, including of course the fact, as it undoubtedly was for Calvin, that only a small proportion of men are chose for eternal grace, can have any meaning only as means to the glory and majesty of God”( Weber, 33). They believed in the elect. They are chosen and predestined by God. However, Lutheran Protestantism was different. It believed that people could earn a place in Heaven through good works on earth.It seems capitalist ideology, but Lutheran Protestantism encouraged people to earn no more than they needed to survive. The problem with Calvinist Protestantism was that they did not know they would go to hell or heaven. Weber mentions ” on the one hand it is held to be an absolute duty to consider oneself chosen, and to combat all doubts are temptations of the devil”(Weber, 37). Their uncertainty led them to work hard and that was for God’s favor. So their hard work led to the development of capitalism. They denied comfort and pleasure to themselves and despised laziness and hedonism. They made money for its own sake. Weber emphasizes that the spirit of capitalism is the values and attitude behind making money. Weber concludes that religion could cause economic change. Pietism is closely connected with Calvinism and gets influences by Lutheran Protestantism. However according to Weber it has an uncertain basis for asceticism and is therefore less consistent than Calvinism. Methodism has a similar uncertain foundation similar to Pietism and is also has some key differences from Calvinism’s doctrinal basis. And finally the Baptist sects had quite a different foundation than Calvinism. Finally, Weber wants to figure out the relationships between ascetic Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism. Overall, Weber’s intent was to prove the positive correlation between capitalist spirit and Protestant religion

Weber does not think that ‘calling’ explain the spirit of capitalism. Weber mentions that Luther developed the conception and activity as a reformer. However, Weber says that Martin Luther was a traditionalist and so believed in obedience to God’s will and acceptances of the way things are, that Lutheranism did not have great significance in the development of the capitalistic spirit. Weber argues that there is no relationship between the spirit of capitalism and reformation and tries to see how religion has impact on material cultures’ development. Weber says “we have no intention whatever of maintain such a foolish and doctrinaire thesis, as that the spirit of capitalism could only have arisen as the result of certain effects of the Reformation, or even that capitalism as an economic system is creation of the Reformation”.

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Weber failed to explain the fact that the reformation by John Calvin and Martin Luther king was a reaction towards the capitalistic tendencies of the Catholic Church as opposed to his explanation that it was a way of allowing protestant capitalism to develop. This is the position of Weber that suffer from the heaviest criticisms since it is well understood that the motive of the reformation was due to the fact that catholic was participating in the accumulation of wealth. Furthermore, Weber’s work has been criticized due to his failure to factor in two historical features; first was the prosperity the cities of Venice and Genoa which were prosperous and economically wealth in Europe during the time Max Weber was writing his thesis. Consequently, during the same time, there was rivalry between Austria and Prussia and during their war; Prussia was dominantly supported by the catholic France which was the powerful state in Europe at that time. Weber also failed to factor in this catholic factor and the sources of this catholic wealth and this is considered the missing link in his arguments (Pierotti 1). In the contemporary world, developments and prosperity of states do not conform to the assertions of Weber. The recent development in the East Asian region is an evident that capitalism does not follow the line of religion since these countries are not Protestants

Consequently the modern prosperity that is witnessed in countries like Spain and Italy which are predominantly catholic and yet they subscribe to capitalistic ideologies totally contradicts Max’s assertion that capitalism is synonymous to the protestant doctrines. This example is a clear indication that capitalism is influenced by factors like geography, political and secular orientation and not Protestantism per se (Parsons and Weber 35). The association by Weber of capitalism to the age of reformation has also been highly criticized. This is because capitalism existed before the age of reformation and Europe practiced capitalism before the protestant revolution and if Weber’s assertion that Protestantism is linked to capitalism then the emergence of the protestant revolution only perpetuated the already existing capitalism.

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Generally speaking, towards the other side, the split is in conventional forms of movement and organisation through rationalisation for Weber

Rather, human maturity and its development in Marx’s view dictated radical variance and structural modifications, Whilst Weber view embodied an emerging tension between ideals of competence and distant relations versus unreasonable principles of human love, consideration and faith. Thus, this process of progress and rationalisation still persists for critical discussion in future as all the social practices and principles strive to conceal their embarrassment with power just in their way of changing domination.

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Etzrodt, Christian. Weber’s Protestant-Ethic Thesis, the Critics, and Adam Smith. MaxWeber Studies, n.d. Web.

Parsons, Talcott and Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Prentice Hall, 2003. Print.

Pierotti, Sandra. Backup of the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Criticisms of Weber’s Thesis, 2003. Web.

Protestant Ethic. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Soc, n.d. Web.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. RoxBury, 2011. Web.

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